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_,                                                                                                            B. POLEVO
64
The peasants of Plavni, who supplemented the usually
meagre crops they raised on their sandy, clayey soil with
successful fishing in the forest lakes, were already re-
ioicing that the war had passed them by. In obedience to
the orders of the Germans, they renamed the chairman
of their collective farm village elder, but continued to
carry on as a collective farm, in the hope that the fascists
would not for ever trample on Soviet soil and that they
would be able to live quietly in their remote haven until
the storm blew over. But the Germans in field-grey
uniforms were followed by others in black uniforms with
skull and crossbones on their forage-caps. The inhabitants
of Plavni were ordered, on pain of severe penalties, to
provide within twenty-four hours fifteen volunteers for
permanent work in Germany. The volunteers were to
muster in the building at the end of the village that
served as the collective-farm office and fish shed, and to
have with them a change of underclothing, a spoon, knife
and fork and a ten days' supply of provisions. But nobody
turned up at the appointed hour. It must be said that,
taught by experience, the black-clad Germans, evidently,
had not had much hope that anyone would turn up. To
teach the village a lesson, they seized the chairman of
the collective farm, that is, the village elder, Veronika
Grigorievna, the elderly patron of the kindergarten, two
collective-farm team-leaders, and ten other peasants they
chanced to lay their hands on, and shot them. They gave
orders that the bodies should not be buried and said that
they would treat the whole village in the same way if
the volunteers failed to turn up at the appointed place
next day.
Again nobody turned up. Next morning, when the
Hitlerites from the SS Sonderkommando went through
the village, they found every house deserted. Not a soul
was in the j>lace, neither young nor old. Abandoning their
homes, their land, all the belongings they had accumulated
by years of toil, and almost all their cattle, the people had
vanished, under cover of the night fogs that are pre-
valent in those parts, without leaving a trace. The entire
village, down to the last man, went off to an old clearing,
deep in the forest, eighteen kilometres away. After making
dugouts for their habitation, the men went to join the